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It's not Dominance - it just isn't! So why do Dogs Fight?

Despite the huge progress is the world of modern, science-based training and our understanding of dog behaviour, almost daily emails come in from people looking for help for their dogs and at some point, the word “dominance” comes up. Mostly, it is used in relation to aggression between dogs in the home: “I think they are vying for dominance” or “My one dog is really dominant and goes for my other dogs when there is food around”.  I saw an article the other day entitled – “Why won’t dominance die?” or something that like and that really is the question. Why does this word still enter just about every conversation that dog owners have about their dogs’ behaviour? 

This article looks at the real reasons for conflict between dogs.

Pack or Dominance Theory: Fact or Fiction

Whether you hear it from dog owners, dog trainers or amateur behaviourists, pop dog psychology usually revolves around the words “pack”, “dominance” and “alpha”. All over the western world people are spitting in their dogs’ food and racing through doorways first in order to maintain their status as “leader” in their dogs’ eyes. But where do all these ideas come from and what is the basic theory behind them? Even more importantly, is the theory based on any fact and is it relevant for dog owners? 

Stress and your Dog: Sources, Symptoms and Solutions

Just as people can experience stress from having to cope with all sorts of situations and pressures in their daily lives, so can dogs. Stress in itself is not a bad thing. A mild amount of stress motivates us to get things accomplished i.e. knowing that we have to answer to a boss at work motivates us to get our tasks done on time. However, when too much pressure is placed on us (e.g. we are constantly overwhelmed with work which we know we cannot possibly complete on time and we fear being fired as a result) we start to suffer emotionally and physically. The same is true for dogs...

What is the socialisation period and how important is it?

In order to allow animals to adjust to their normal environment and to still develop the ability to cope appropriately with danger, baby animals have a period of time in which they are particularly receptive to new experiences and attracted to social interaction.  During this time a young animal has the opportunity to explore its environment and store away its experiences as a large frame of reference for what is normal and a part of everyday life (sights, sounds, smells, contact with other animals etc.) while still under the protection of its parents. The brain is then able to recognise similar experiences in the future as non-threatening, preventing the animal from going into “survival mode” for no reason. Understanding this period of time and providing opportunities for socialisation should be one of the most important goals for new puppy owners. 

Canine Body Language

While most people quickly recognise obvious canine body language like tail-wagging or snarling there are many more signals that dogs can give to indicate how they are feeling. Many of these signals or behaviours indicate a wish to avoid conflict rather than engage in it and may be more subtle and difficult for inexperienced people to pick up. In order to better train, socialise and handle our dogs it is important that we are aware of all the ways they may be communicating with us.

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